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September 18, 2011 6:48 pm

Why Europe Shouldn’t Support the Palestinian UN Gambit

avatar by David Harris

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The European Parliament building in Strasbourg, France. Photo: Rama.

The 27 members of the European Union have become the key battleground in the current Palestinian UN gambit.

Britain, France, Germany and Portugal sit on the UN Security Council. They would be among the 15 nations acting on a Palestinian request for UN membership.

Moreover, the General Assembly is expected to vote on another Palestinian-initiated resolution that, given the assembly’s make-up, will inevitably be adopted. But the European Union (EU) votes are particularly sought by Ramallah, as they are seen to have a moral cachet unavailable from Caracas, Damascus and Tehran.

Along come two former top European officials, Martti Ahtisaari and Javier Solana, who have just published “Ten Reasons for a European ‘Yes'” in the International Herald Tribune. Reflecting their own views, they want the EU as a whole squarely on the Palestinian side.

Apart from the unlikely prospect of EU unity, given internal fault lines, their reasoning is deeply flawed.

First, they claim that a “yes” vote “is an attempt to keep the two-state solution alive.” Really?

Four consecutive Israeli prime ministers – Barak, Sharon, Olmert, and Netanyahu – have been for a two-state accord. One Israeli initiative after another has been presented, only to be rebuffed.

For the peace process to be “meaningful,” contrary to the authors’ assertion, the EU should be telling the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table with Israel, not seek false comfort in UN chambers.

Second, they assert that the heavy EU financial investment “to help build a functioning Palestinian state” needs to be protected.

The EU has indeed helped. But the key point is that a “yes” vote threatens progress toward a two-state deal by allowing Palestinian unilateral steps – in violation of existing Israeli-Palestinian agreements – to trump bilateral talks. If that’s not a formula for instability on the ground, what is?

Third, they want the EU “to respond positively to Mahmoud Abbas’ state-building achievements.”

In fact, much of the credit deservedly goes to Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who opposes the Palestinian UN strategy. He understands precisely what’s at risk, including vital American and Israeli economic cooperation.

At the same time, the EU, better than anyone, should grasp what constitutes a “state.”

Is Palestine today a state? Hardly. For starters, look at the PA-Hamas, West Bank-Gaza split, something the authors strikingly failed to address. Indeed, the word “Hamas” doesn’t appear in their article, as if it could be wished away.

Fourth, according to the authors, the EU, mindful of the “Arab Spring,” needs to avoid “charges of double standards” by supporting “rights for Palestinians.”

Do they mean the EU should also support, come what may, the rights of all Arabs (and, for that matter, Iranians) to achieve the human freedom, human rights, and human dignity they have been denied for far too long? Now that would be interesting! Too often, however, and not just in Europe, of course, interests have handily trumped values, allowing double standards to thrive.

Fifth, speaking of interests, Ahtisaari and Solana invoke them as an argument to vote “yes.”

The EU needs export markets, energy supplies, and a break from jihadist terrorism, they note.

So, the authors essentially believe that Europe is vulnerable to what can only be described as Arab blackmail if it doesn’t do the “right” thing by supporting the Palestinians. One might wish for a bit more backbone!

Sixth, they contend a “yes” vote would be a favor to the U.S., which can’t be supportive only “for evident domestic reasons.”

This one is below the belt. The coded language, of course, means “the Jewish lobby.”

These otherwise worldly Europeans apparently don’t get what makes America tick. Rather, they want to believe that two percent of the American population, with all of its diversity, “controls” governmental decision-making.

For centuries, Europe had been quite expert at conjuring up myths of Jewish “power,” which proved rather costly to the Jewish people. Isn’t it high time to realize, in this case, that America itself, as polls have revealed for decades, is a pro-Israel country precisely because it identifies so closely with Israel’s narrative?

The seventh and eighth arguments are lumped together, but boil down to “Israelis’ objections to the Palestinian move…do not hold water” and, anyway, we know best what’s good for Israelis.

If that isn’t chutzpah, what is?

Israel, half of the Israeli-Palestinian equation, has legitimate concerns about Palestinian intentions, the diplomatic end-run, possible recourse to the International Criminal Court, the PA-Hamas relationship, and a region in flux. The authors, however, blithely ignore or dismiss these concerns from their redoubts in Helsinki and Madrid.

Ninth, they confidently predict that a “yes” vote will reduce the likelihood of Palestinian violence. But then again, maybe it won’t.

By raising Palestinian expectations through the UN rather than the bargaining table, the authors advocate a scenario where, the day after a vote, the Palestinians may realize that nothing has changed, planting the seeds for further unrest.

And what about the prospect then of Hamas, not to mention other extremist forces, eager to fan the flames of fury following that disappointment?

Finally, they note that a “yes” vote “in the General Assembly does not entail bilateral recognition of ‘Palestine’.” Technically, that’s true, but by endorsing the notion of Palestine as a “state” – in this case, a UN observer state – the vote creates significant facts on the ground.

And by defining the state’s borders, which is expected, it would only make it still harder for the Palestinians to climb down from the lofty UN heights to deal with the Israelis, as they must, if they ever wish to achieve a real deal.

The EU, with its power, prestige, and proximity, has a key role to play in moving the peace process forward.

But saying “yes” to the Palestinian gambit at the UN would be precisely the wrong way to go.

David Harris is Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC). He was a Visiting Scholar at the Bologna Center of Johns Hopkins University (2000-2) and a Senior Associate at St. Antony’s College, Oxford University (2009-11). He has been honored for his international work by the governments of Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Spain, and Ukraine.

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  • anonm

    You also failed to mention that when Israel wants to talk peace, they hardly give anything back. Instead, they blockaded Palestine that is almost as bad as holocaust victims. Whenever Israel claims to attack extremists, they end up destroying homes, schools, government buildings and commercial zones. Those aren’t terrorist, Israel just wants to crush and crumble Palestine, as well as destroy families and leaving orphans on the street, or worse yet, kill them. And I haven’t even mentioned the illegal settlements yet. Israel would be isolated, together with the US and any other state that votes against Palestine, even if the US would veto it. Europe would sooner abstain, than support USAIPAC and Israel.

  • Leto

    I welcome an alternative path to peace, given that negotiations with Israel and the US have gotten Palestine nothing more than a giant wall and Jewish settlements. Divide and conquer right Israel?

    I was wondering how anyone could be so biased, but then I read where you were from, Mr Harris.

  • oceansoul

    JUST REMEMBER ITS 2011 and never has been before

  • thamer

    the author of this article clearly has no idea what he’s talking about. Either that, or he is engaging in sophism for no other reason than he is jewish and feels an obligation to defend israeli interests. do you really expect palestine to even listen to any offers that israel puts forth when they won’t even make the most basic concession, which is to stop building illegal settlements on land which doesn’t belong to them. israel has committed war crime after war crime after war crime against the palestinians and the only reason israel is blocking this is so that they can keep torturing the palestinian people until they leave, and to prevent them from taking legal action against israel for the atrocities they’ve committed. Every country in the world sides with the Palestinians, including the US. The only reason they will veto is because aipac has such a stranglehold on congress that US politicians have no choice but to obey israeli’s every command. It’s only a matter of time before israel spirals so out of control that the US can no longer afford to support it, and then…it will be completely isolated. Good luck when that happens.

  • Ravi Abay

    Mr Harris labors the point of “Palestinian unilateral steps” which would create “instability on the ground”. He conveniently does not mention unilateral Israeli settlement construction, which create facts on the ground.

    Lastly, and most important he does not mention that the real fear is that Israel could end up before the International Courts of Justice for human rights violations and would be constraint in their further actions.

    It would be a sad day for Europe if a single European nation does not support the Palestinian initiative.